Article 23 of the Iranian constitution forbids the investigation of people’s beliefs, and Article 24 of the same constitution says media and publications are free to express anything that is not against the foundations of Islam and public rights. Article 25 of the constitution is also about freedom of communication among citizens and forbids censoring or tapping them. Article 27 allows unarmed assemblies and marches on the condition that they do not violate the foundations of Islam.
Since articles 24 and 27 are conditional on the vague phrase “foundations of Islam”, they do not guarantee freedom of expression as established in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet if these articles are completely enforced, they provide a minimum of freedom of expression in Iran, although conditional and incomplete, in areas that are not connected to religious red lines.
But the problem is that the Islamic Republic is not even committed to its own laws and violates these laws against citizens on a daily basis. Newspapers, books and other art and culture are systematically censored and other means of expressing opinions and political dissent are limited and repressed.
In a situation where people do not trust in the political system and ruling officials, they also do not trust in news and reports published in official media because they know these media outlets get censored. The result of this lack of trust is that rumors replace real reports and in the case of events that are emotional to the public, people will decide whether a piece of news is true or false, and react to it accordingly. In this situation, the lack of freedom of expression for individuals and media, as well as the lack of a trusted channel for disseminating news will complicate the situation even further.
People’s reaction in these situations will usually be in the form of street protest. But even these unarmed protests that are usually peaceful, and not connected to religious red lines, are repressed by the government, in violation of the Iranian constitution.
In the most recent example, the suspicious death of a young woman in the Kurdish city of Mahabad in Western Azarbaijan province in Iran resulted in days of unrest in the city. In the absence of an independent and free media that correctly broadcasts the news, and the tendency of officials to cover any suspicious event, the death of Ms. Farinaz Khosravani created rumors. Ms. Khosravani who used to work at Hotel Tara in Mahabad, fell from the fourth floor balcony and died immediately. Contradicting news about this event in the backdrop of social, economic and political discontent, resulted in street protests by a large number of residents including the youth who demanded that the perpetrators of this incident be identified and punished.
Inappropriate comments by government officials, and the identification of a non-local person who was renting the room from which Farinaz, resulted in more anger from the public. Western Azarbaijan’s governor’s deputy in political and security issues responded to people’s protests saying Ms. Khosravani’s death was an accident and mentioned a strange story for this death that really angered the public: “… the accused was planning to ask the deceased to marry him but the deceased was trying to leave the room in a hurry and therefore fell from the window and died.”
The governor’s deputy’s statements made the protesters think that the responsible officials had no intention to discover the truth or implement justice, and therefore the public needs to increase the consequences of lying for government officials so they are forced to treat this case seriously and identify and punish the perpetrators. Street protests were the only possible choice for citizens who demanded justice and truth.
But instead of understanding the public’s political dissent, the security apparatus of Iran confronted these protests and dispersed the protesters, shooting them with shotguns, wounding many protesters and arresting a number of them. There were reports that doctors had to amputate the eye of a protester. According to doctors, one of the wounded named Akam Talaj sustained a spinal injury and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of this life, should he survive.
Arrests continued for days after the protests, and a number of protesters were identified and arrested through footage from security cameras and protest photos published on social media. Some sources say that over 300 people were arrested and that more than 150 of them are still in detention. Protests were not limited to Mahabad. There were protests in cities of Naghdeh, Piranshahr and Sardasht in support of public protests of Mahababd. Protesters were also repressed in these cities and an unknown number were arrested.
These confrontations which were supposedly effective in calming the situation and taking the streets from protesters, are not only in violation of Iran’s constitution, they are clear evidence of the violation of the freedom of speech and the right to dissent for citizens who have no other means to express their opinions and grievances. These confrontations will widen the gap between the state and the public.
Shahed Alavi is from Kurdish region of Iran, Masters in political science National University of Iran (Shahid Beheshti). Alavi worked as a teacher, secretary of Kurdistan’s Teachers union and has worked with Human Rights Activists in Iran. he is now active journalist working on human rights minority rights issues.